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May 2022 marks the three year anniversary of the evacuation of the Town of High Level in the face of the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire.
The Town of High Level has teamed up with freelance journalists and multimedia entrepreneurs Matthew Marcone and Jordan Maskell of Liberty Multimedia Inc., who created the “Together We Stand: A Northern Alberta Wildfire Story” documentary and accompanying book, telling the stories of the wildfire from those who were there.
They are currently hard at work on a second book, “Northern Alberta: Tales from the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire” which is scheduled for release in the fall of 2022. To help mark the occasion of the third anniversary of the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire, they are allowing us to share some of the stories contained in their forthcoming book.
For more information on Liberty Multimedia, please visit libertymultimedia.com.
Together We Stand
Raye Smith-Knox of Raye’s Signs Ltd.
Of the thousands of residents whose lives were forever changed by the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire, it would be Raye Smith-Knox who created something lasting and meaningful out of the ashes.
“It represents a purity of the Town and for our future,” explained Smith-Knox, describing the idea behind the region’s now nationally recognized Together We Stand logo. “After all this was done, there is still hope for our future and it is still bright. We picked the black circle because it is the circle surrounding our entire area, all the way from Rainbow Lake, over to La Crete, up to Steen River, down to Paddle Prairie; all encompassed in that circle.”
Smith-Knox said they wanted a logo that was plain, white and pure, while also featuring a red flame. The design continues being worn coast to coast on t-shirts, hats, sweaters and other apparel commemorating the rollercoaster ride brought upon by the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire.
“The logo also symbolizes the burning desire of all the people in their hearts that were out there battling this beast,” said Smith-Knox. “We wanted to use the Town of High Level logo because it is our town. We put it in that heart and colour with everybody around us. ‘Together We Stand,’ as a whole area. We saw a little girl from Vancouver wearing our hat. We also had an order from Newfoundland, so it was from one side of our country to the other. That was pretty phenomenal.”
She recalled the intense emotional whirlwind of the days leading up to High Level’s mandatory evacuation.
“We were actually away for the long weekend when we got the call that we were evacuating,” said Smith-Knox. “Our daughter who works for the company was still here. She phoned us and said, ‘Mom, we’re evacuated, so what do I do?’ I said, ‘well just stay put, we’ll have things to do I’m sure,’ so then we started talking.”
Smith-Knox then had a conversation with High Level Fire Chief Rodney Schmidt.
“I could hear it in his voice that this was quite serious and that this was going to be quite an event for High Level,” she said. “We are very community-oriented people, so our family decided we should do our part.” Since we are in the art industry, we decided we should come up with something that would stay in the hearts of people. We came up with this idea and at 1:30 a.m., we finalized it, sent it off to Rodney and the people at the Town, and received a reply within minutes saying, ‘Go with it, run with it. That is how it really began for us, so away we went.”
The creation also had an added benefit of raising $24,042 for the High Level Fire Department Training Facility.
“A few t-shirts turned into, ‘what if we got hats, what if we got hoodies?’” said Smith-Knox, remembering the lightening fast evolution of the idea. “It exploded on us and just kept going and going. We went through hundreds of every item, which far exceeded our expectations. We kept setting new goals. We were just really excited for it to go to the training centre and see what was going to transpire at the end of it. Get a nice picture, frame it for the Fire Hall and present them with our fundraising efforts.”
She said her family is passionate about supporting local firefighters.
“Anything that we can help with for more training for the area for firefighters, it is just not our own in High Level,” said Smith-Knox. “It is for the complete area and farther out too. If we can help them out to build another pipe-stand, railway crossing or smoke buildings; whatever we can do to help them, is a win for all of our community.”
High Level residents returned home on Monday, June 3, 2019 following the two-week evacuation and were greeted by signs, featuring the logo and welcoming residents back.
“We were here early to do the work to welcome people back with our ‘together we stand’ signs,” Smith-Knox said. “Re-entry was so smooth and well-organized. It was amazing actually to watch the people coming back in. I had a lady walk in and said she had lived here years ago and was up here battling the fire with Forestry. She said, ‘it was nice to see all those signs, welcome back,’ it was like I was coming back home. It was kind of unique to hear those kinds of stories.”
Smith-Knox said they heard hundreds of stories and experiences that summer.
“If people were living here before or if they have family members here; whatever it may be,” she said. “RCMP members came in here and bought hats, so we heard their stories from wherever they were from across the province. We heard so many stories of the uniqueness of it all and the signs that welcomed people home. There is always somebody that has a story about it.”
The campaign continued until the 53rd Annual Firefighter’s Ball in October 2019.